February 11, 2019
OKLAHOMA CITY – State Reps. Trey Caldwell and Toni Hasenbeck must have been reading detective stories.
Sherlock Holmes detective stories, to be precise.
More than 120 years ago Arthur Conan Doyle, who created detective Sherlock Holmes, wrote that “it is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.”
Echoing Doyle – and Holmes – both Caldwell and Hasenbeck believe the state needs to collect more information.
“Incarcerating people is not a category we want to be No. 1 in,” Caldwell, a Republican from Lawton, said. “We need commonsense reform, but to do that we need information about things like recidivism rates. We need good data and we don’t have good data on recidivism.”
Hasenbeck, a Republican from Elgin, agreed. But instead of data about corrections, she said she wants to see more information that would help officials identify the state’s workforce.
That data could include information about students, employees, employers, or anything else that can help identify stakeholders, she said.
“I think it’s hard to throw money at a problem and identify the people who are being affected when you don’t know who they are,” she said. “The stakeholders are not identified.”
Both lawmakers – whose districts are within miles of each other in southwestern Oklahoma – have filed legislation that, if passed, would gather more data. Those bills are currently working their way through legislative committees. Neither lawmaker was aware the other was working on similar legislation.
Caldwell said his bill, House Bill 2298, is currently in the House Rules Committee. That measure would require the Department of Corrections to start collecting data about recidivism.
Hasenbeck’s bill, HB 1364, is currently in the House Higher Education and CareerTech committee.
Both measures could help backfill a void in some areas of state government. In addition, representatives from Oklahoma’s Workforce Development group call data collection necessary to their efforts.
“Effective collection and analysis of education, workforce and economic data is essential to Oklahoma’s ability to decrease the skills gap, improve service delivery, track progress toward achieving strategic goals, and generate wealth for all Oklahomans,” a posting on the Oklahoma Works website noted.
Hasenbeck said some of that information could be obtained through student tests, such as the ACT, which quantify student skills. She said the information would not identify individual students but, instead, “leverage aggregate information about students and their abilities.”
The better data, she said, the better the policy.
For Caldwell, better information about the state’s corrections system would help with the state’s justice reform efforts.
A 2017 report from the state’s criminal justice task force buttresses Caldwell’s call for more information. That report, the final one for the task force, called for “technological advances for the collection and reporting of key performance measures.”
“To track implementation of the criminal justice reforms recommended by the Task Force, and to assess their ongoing impacts on public safety, recidivism rates, and the prison and community supervision populations, the state must commit to collection, analysis, and public reporting of all relevant data and information,” the report noted. “Data will be used to track outcomes, improve agency operations, and inform policy-making and budgetary decisions.’
Improving DOC’s data collection ability, the report said, would enhance the state’s ability to track data from filing to discharge and would improve communication among agencies, including DOC, the Pardon and Parole Board, the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services and the Administrative Office of the Courts.
Caldwell said additional information would help steer future legislation. Like Holmes, the great fictional detective, he said he didn’t want to make decisions without data.
“One of the things that I’ve learned since I have been there is we’re not working with complete information,” he said.